Children's Counselor: Education and Career Information

Oct 20, 2021

Counselors helping individuals with issues affecting a child or assisting children themselves may come to this profession via different career paths, such as mental health, marriage and family therapy or school counseling. All of these options require a graduate degree and licensure.

Essential Information

Child counselors work with children facing concerns such as domestic abuse, family problems and emotional issues. Education and experience requirements vary for each employer, but a master's degree is required to become a licensed counselor.

Career Titles Marriage and Family Therapists School and Career Counselors Mental Health Counselors
Education Requirements A master's degree in counseling, psychology, social work or a related discipline A master's degree in school counseling or a related discipline A master's degree in clinical mental health counseling, psychology or a related discipline
Licensure Requirements State license required State teacher's license required Clinical mental health counselor license required
Projected Job Growth (2019-2029)* 22% 8% 25%
Median Annual Salary (2020)* $51,340 $58,120 $47,660

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options

Those who want to work as children's counselors can take several different professional paths. For instance, college graduates with relevant backgrounds could pursue careers as marriage and family therapists, school counselors or clinical mental health counselors.

Marriage and Family Therapist

Marriage and family therapists use psychotherapy and family systems theory to diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders within family dynamics. They help family members communicate, understand each other's perceptions and prevent crisis. Issues pertaining to divorce, poverty, substance abuse, unemployment, physical and emotional abuse, social environment, child care and medical care affect children and their families.

Marriage and family therapists meet with families, groups and individuals to assess the situation, identify problems and determine resolutions. They help parents and children improve their relationships and consult with teachers about behavioral problems children have at school. For children dealing with problems such as violence, poverty or disabilities, marriage and family therapists act as an intermediary between the child and the court, protective services, doctors and school. Therapists provide testimony during court proceedings dealing with child abuse or custody battles, and may recommend foster care. Advice is given to foster or adoptive parents, and marriage and family therapists help children adjust in foster or adoptive situations.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) noted that jobs for marriage and family therapists were expected to rapidly increase 22% between 2019 and 2029, which is significantly faster than the average for all jobs. In May 2020, the mean annual salary of marriage and family therapists was $56,890, per BLS reports.


According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), marriage and family therapists have at least a master's degree. The Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education approves graduate and postgraduate programs in marriage and family therapy. Accredited master's degree programs teach students theory and practice in marriage and family therapy, and provide basic academic and clinical skills.

Coursework generally includes counseling and personality theories, relationships, group counseling, family counseling, couples counseling, diagnosis and treatment, ethical and legal issues, addictions and counseling techniques. Additionally, a certain number of hours of field-based experience is required to graduate.

Licensure and Certification

Licensing requirements vary for each state and provide marriage and family therapists permission to practice in a particular state. National certification is obtainable from the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC), which offers a basic National Certified Counselor (NCC) certification. To qualify for the NCC, applicants must have a master's degree in counseling or a related field, 3,000 hours of counseling experience with a portion of it under supervision of a qualified professional and a passing score on the National Counselor Examination.

School Counselor

Children's school counselors work with students in elementary and middle schools to help them successfully grow academically, socially and professionally. They help solve emotional, social or behavioral problems, and guide students toward a clearer focus and better path. According to the American School Counselor Association (ASCA), school counselors encourage a safe learning environment and provide intervention and prevention programs that preserve human rights.

The ASCA states that school counselors provide services to students, parents or guardians, school staff and community members that relate to:

  • Curriculum
  • Developing future plans and personal goals
  • Conflict resolution
  • A unified approach with school administrators on how the school counseling program is handled
  • Development and use of needs-based, research-supported programs
  • Continuous evaluation of guidance programs

School counselors have specific job duties depending on the education level of their students. The BLS reported that elementary school counselors observe children while they do class work and during play, as well as discuss with teachers and parents matters pertaining to the child. School counselors at all levels provide services that deal with substance abuse, domestic violence, family problems and conflict resolution, according to the BLS.

As reported by the BLS, employment of school and career counselors was predicted to grow much faster than average between 2019 and 2029, due partially to student population increases. In May 2020, counselors employed by elementary and secondary schools earned a mean annual income of $62,320, according to the BLS.


The ASCA states that school counselors have a minimum of a master's degree. Graduate degrees in school counseling are available at many universities and colleges, and provide students with academic and practical experience that includes working in a school environment. The ASCA notes that nearly all public school systems require that graduate degree school counseling programs include classes that cover:

  • Human growth and development
  • Theories
  • Individual counseling
  • Group counseling
  • Social and cultural foundations
  • Testing
  • Research and program evaluation
  • Professional orientation
  • Career development
  • Supervised practicum
  • Supervised internship


According to the BLS, some states require school counselors to acquire certification or be licensed. States may also mandate that public school counselors have teaching and counseling certificates and some teaching experience. Licensing generally requires school counselors to take continuing education courses. Individuals can research their state's certification and licensing requirements.


The NBCC certifies school counselors as National Certified School Counselors (NCSCs). To earn the title, candidates need to have a master's degree in counseling and pass the respective NBCC examination.

Clinical Mental Health Counselor

Clinical mental health counselors work with children to identify and remedy mental and emotional disorders. They assess problems using psychotherapy, which encourages interpersonal communication between the clinical mental health counselor and the child. Through talking, observations and tests, clinical mental health counselors evaluate a child's mental state. Common mental health diagnoses include anxiety, depression, stress, trauma, low self-esteem, grief and substance abuse. The BLS states that clinical mental health counselors often work together with other mental health specialists such as school counselors, social workers and psychologists.

After diagnosing the child's mental state, clinical mental health counselors provide guidance to help the child make adjustments and overcome problems. The mental health counselor may also meet with family members to assist in the child's treatment, and help the family comprehend and support what the child is going through.

As of May 2020, mental health counselors brought home a mean salary of $51,550 annually, according to the BLS. Jobs in the field were anticipated to grow 25% between 2019 and 2029, which is much faster than average, partially due to more people seeking treatment for mental health issues than in previous years (BLS).


A master's degree is normally required for licensed clinical mental health counselors, according to the BLS. The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) notes that graduate programs in clinical mental health counseling or related fields prepare students for a career as a clinical mental health counselor by providing courses in diagnosis, treatment, referral and prevention. In addition to coursework, graduate programs require students to spend a certain number of hours gaining field experience under the supervision of a clinical mental health counseling professional.


The BLS states that a majority of states have some sort of licensure requirement for clinical mental health counselors. According to the American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA), a licensed clinical mental health counselor has a master's degree in counseling or related mental health field, at least two years of postgraduate work experience that was done under the supervision of a licensed or certified mental health professional and passed a state or national licensure or certification exam.


The NBCC offers certification to clinical mental health counselors who are NCCs, have 100 hours of supervised work experience, 3,000 hours of clinical client contact, a taped clinical session or an additional two years of supervised work experience. Qualified candidate must then pass the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination to earn the certification.

A career as a children's counselor typically requires a master's degree in counseling, psychology or social work, and a state or clinical license. Those who work in schools may also be required to have a teaching license. With experience, these professionals may apply for certification in their respective specialty.

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